Floyd Abrams is a constitutional attorney who has argued some of the most famous First Amendment cases in recent history, including arguing for Citizens United in their case against the FEC, as well as representing the NY Times in the Pentagon papers case New York Times Co. v. United States. Abrams wrote a letter to the Times expressing disappointment in his former client’s decision not to run any of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
According to the public editor of the NY Times, who quoted the managing editor, it was a matter of self-censorship:
Mr. Baquet told me that he started out the day Wednesday convinced that The Times should publish the images, both because of their newsworthiness and out of a sense of solidarity with the slain journalists and the right of free expression.
He said he had spent “about half of my day” on the question, seeking out the views of senior editors and reaching out to reporters and editors in some of The Times’s international bureaus. They told him they would not feel endangered if The Times reproduced the images, he told me, but he remained concerned about staff safety.
“I sought out a lot of views, and I changed my mind twice,” he said. “It had to be my decision alone.”
Ultimately, he decided against it, he said, because he had to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers. To many of them, he said, depictions of the prophet Muhammad are sacrilegious; those that are meant to mock even more so. “We have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire. Most of these are gratuitous insult.”
But not everyone agreed, including their former attorney, whose letter is below:
To the Editor:
The decision of The New York Times to report on the murders in Paris of journalists who worked for Charlie Hebdo while not showing a single example of the cartoons that led to their executions is regrettable. There are times for self-restraint, but in the immediate wake of the most threatening assault on journalism in living memory, you would have served the cause of free expression best by engaging in it.
New York, Jan. 8, 2015
The writer, a First Amendment lawyer, represented The Times in the Pentagon Papers case.